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RFU referees Nia Parsonage and Andrew Jackson are back for more this year after controlling the Varsity Matches at the Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium last summer. As if playing the games in the middle of summer, on Sunday, 4 July, wasn’t strange enough, both officials had to make their debuts using some hybrid laws due to COVID. There were no scrums and no mauls, but plenty of running around.

ANDREW JACKSON turned to refereeing at university in 2005 when, as he recalls, “it became abundantly clear that no new talent was on the way after I’d been a very average full back in my school 2nd XV in Loughborough.” He worked his way through the ranks in the Durham Society before being appointed to the first of his 28 Premiership games to date in 2016.

 “I’m not a full-time referee and by day I’m a health and safety professional working for a chemical company,” explained Jackson. “I’ve been around the Premiership for the past five or six seasons. I started with Sale v Saracens and it went pretty well and things have developed from there – I even got a half of Champions Cup rugby when the referee had to come off.

“I still remember sending off Kieron Brookes in front of a full Franklins Gardens crowd when Northampton Saints played Newcastle. That was an interesting experience! 

“I’ve had a pretty normal season to date with some Premiership matches interspersed with some touch-line duty in Europe. I never thought last year that I’d be refereeing into July, but I certainly wasn’t going to turn-down the chance to get involved in the Varsity Match.

“The list of referees who have controlled that game reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of international refereeing. It is an honour to follow in the footstep of so many legendary officials.” 

He certainly left an indelible mark on the fixture in July when he sent-off the Oxford back row replacement, Bertie Watson, for lashing out with his foot at a Cambridge player holding his leg. He was only the second player in the then 149-year history of the game to receive his marching orders 

NIA PARSONAGE had already had a taste of the women’s Varsity Match prior to taking chageE of last year’s fixture, having been one of the assistant referees to Nikki O’Donnell in 2018 at Twickenham. That occasion left its mark on her and she can’t wait to step up into the leading role at Welford Road.

Rugby still dominates her life as she works full-time as the Sports Partnership Manager for the legal firm Irwin Mitchell. They work with the RFU and British Rowing.

“I manage the relationship between my company, who are the official legal partners to England rugby, and the RFU,” said Parsonage. “When I ran the line in 2018 at Twickenham I remember thinking to myself after the game that wouldn’t it be great to one day be able to referee the match. It was a real thrill to be able to do that in Leicester last year and it will be even better going back to Twickenham this time. 

“I know the women’s Varsity Match is only just over 30-years-old, but it has followed in the great tradition of the men’s match, which reaches a real landmark this season with its 150th anniversary.”

Although born in England, Parsonage grew up in Canada and that’s where she learned the game and first picked up the whistle. She returned to England to attend university and has stayed ever since. 

“I used to play at centre in Canada for a team in British Colombia called Capilano. I played in three successive Division 2 cup finals with them, winning the first two, and then found myself being ‘volunteered’ to become a referee,” she said.  

“That meant I ended up refereeing the same final a few seasons later. My playing career ended due to a car accident and I used refereeing as part of my rehab and to keep in touch with the game.  

“When I moved back to England from Canada to go to university I used refereeing to connect with people and make new friends. I reached out to the rugby community and they took me in – it is a sport that has a great fellowship.”

She has been busy on the Allianz Premier15s circuit this season. 

1881: Henry Taylor; 1882: Wilf Bolton; 1883-84, 1886-90: Rowland Hill; 1885: Innes Currey; 1891-93, 1894- 95: Henry Ashmore; 1894: Captain Lawrence; 1897-1902: George Harnett; 1903: Tom Williams (Wales); 1904: Crawford Findlay (Scotland); 1905: John Gillespie (Scotland); 1906: Fred Marsh; 1907-08: Gil Evans; 1909, 11, 13, 19: Frank Potter-Irwin; 1910, 12: John Dallas (Scotland); 1920: Sam Crawford (Ireland); 1921: John Sturrock (Scotland); 1922, 24, 26, 28: Tommy Vile (Wales); 1923, 25, 27, 29, 31, 32: Albert Freethy (Wales); 1930: Billy Jaffares (Ireland); 1933-1934: Malcolm Allan (Scotland); 1935-1938, 45, 47: Cyril Gadney; 1946: Ham Lambert (Ireland); 1948-49: Alan Bean; 1950: Trevor Jones (Wales); 1951, 53: Dr Peter Cooper; 1952: William Murdoch (Scotland); 1954-55: Ivor David (Wales); 1956, 67: Ken John; 1957, 60-62, 64-66: Gwynne Walters (Wales); 1958: Les Boundy; 1959: Ray Williams (Ireland); 1963: Bob Burrell (Scotland); 1968: Paddy D’Arcy (Ireland); 1969: Mike Titcomb; 1970: Larry Lamb; 1971: Ron Lewis (Wales); 1972: Johnny Johnson; 1973: Keith Clark (Ireland); 1974: Ken Pattinson; 1975: Alan Welsby; 1976: Norman Sanson (Scotland); 1977-78, 81, 87-89: Clive Norling (Wales); 1979: Alan Hosie (Scotland); 1980: Dave Burnett (Ireland); 1982: Dave Burnett (Ireland); 1983: Tony Trigg; 1984: Laurie Prideaux; 1985: Roger Quittenton; 1986: Fred Howard; 1990: Owen Doyle (Ireland); 1991: Jim Fleming (Scotland); 1992, 98: Ed Morrison; 1993: Derek Bevan (Wales); 1994: Steve Hilditch (Ireland); 1995, 02, 07: Tony Spreadbury; 1996: Jim Pearson; 1997: Brian Campsall; 1999: Clayton Thomas (Wales); 2000, 03: Chris White; 2001, 04: Steve Lander; 2005: Wayne Barnes; 2006: David Rose; 2008: Wayne Barnes; 2009: Dean Richards; 2010: Andrew Small; 2011: Dave Pearson; 2012: Tim Wigglesworth; 2013: Matt Carley; 2014: Luke Pearce; 2015: Greg Garner; 2016: Tim Wigglesworth; 2017: Christophe Ridley; 2018: Nigel Owens (Wales); 2019: JP Doyle; 2021: Andrew Jackson

* There were no referees until 1881
* All referees are from the RFU unless stated

2015: Sara Cox; 2016: Claire Hodnett; 2017: Sarah Toll; 2018: Nikki O’Donnell; 2019: Laura Pettingale; 2021: Nia Parsonage

* All referees are from the RFU 

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